Adora doesn’t know what she’s doing here.
A sense of anticipation charges the air, so palpable that Adora can feel it racing across her skin. The streets shine with the remnants of a summer shower, the hazy lights of the strip’s neon signs a technicolor reflection underfoot. All around her, the streets jostle with life — if it could be called that. Young people lean against cars and hang in gaggles outside the fronts of bars, their laughter carrying across the night air. It all feels so… different.
It feels surreal — like falling into a dream or falling out of one, the uncanny sensation of losing consciousness and the disoriented shock of waking up. She has been here before, but those first few moments in the foreign city never quite fade. She drinks it in with her eyes, feeling more alive than ever.
The weight of an arm descends across her shoulder, and Adora finds herself being dragged forward by someone much shorter than she is.
“Come on, stop making that face,” says Glimmer, mouth curved into a mischievous smile. The blue and red lights of a nearby club scatter across her face, washing her pink hair into a deeper purple. Her eyes are clear and bright, and Adora finds herself mirroring the smile on Glimmer’s face for no reason other than the sheer joy of seeing her friend happy. “We’re supposed to be having fun here.”
“It’s just… different, isn’t it?”
“Oh my God, won’t you live a little?” Glimmer says, laughing. She uses the arm looped around Adora’s neck to drag her down so that they’re nearly eye level and says, “It’s like you’re even taller.”
“Yeah?” Adora pulls her shoulders back, standing at her full height. It feels good, if slightly disorienting. “You’re not.”
Glimmer’s arm slips from around Adora’s shoulders, looping around her elbow instead. Laughing, she tugs at Adora’s arm and inclines her head down the street. “Come on,” she says, “let’s go to Bright Moon.”
Adora lets herself be dragged by Glimmer. The two of them wind through the clusters of people clogging up the street, some of them stopping to regale Glimmer and Adora with slurred cheers as they go by. She rolls her eyes. Years have passed since she was young enough to go out dancing like this, and yet it all feels so familiar. She catches her reflection in a shop window, and the face that stares back at her is unlined and fresh, eyes wide and sparkling.
The only title Bright Moon needs is the smooth, neon swoop of a crescent moon, the color of the sign changing in pulses. Adora watches it slowly ebb from purple to red to orange, just as dazzled as she had been the first time. When she blinks, the symbol is etched into the field of black behind her eyelids.
It’s a good thing Bright Moon has no bouncers — Glimmer nearly pulls Adora’s arm out of its socket dragging her inside.
Within the heart of the club, the steady throb of music beats around them. She hasn’t heard this song in years. It’s loud, so loud that Adora can feel it under her feet and in her teeth, a constant thrum that has her idly swaying her head to the music. The air is thick here, warm with the heat of packed bodies. The lighting is low and the shadows deep, the crowd illuminated only by the occasional sweep of a hooded lamp or colored fixture.
In a display of strength that is altogether impressive for her tiny form, Glimmer wrestles them deeper into the crowd. She avoids the rolling mass that is the dance floor — if they get swallowed in that, who knows when they’ll get spat out. Adora eyes the vintage clothing of the other clubbers, the outfits and the choice of music filling her with a sense of nostalgia and excitement.
They find Bow at the bar, nursing a flamboyantly orange drink that probably tastes like pure sugar. He locks eyes on Glimmer through the writhing of the crowd and his smile is like the slow rise of the sun.
Adora winces in sympathy when Glimmer collides with him, but Bow just laughs. She hangs back for just a few minutes, content to watch the way that Glimmer burrows her face into his neck. Bow’s large hands card through her hair, working through the silky pink tresses with the same tenderness he usually reserves for Glimmer.
“I like the pink,” he murmurs, his voice just loud enough that Adora can hear from his side.
Glimmer gives a wet laugh. She relaxes her vice grip on Bow and says, “Maybe Adora can help me dye it for real later.”
That’s her cue. Feeling only slightly guilty, Adora leans in to hug Bow as well. He smells like the same aftershave he has worn for years. He still gives the best hugs.
She settles onto the barstool next to Bow. Glimmer essentially sits in his lap. She would tease the two of them, if they weren’t so cute, sharing Bow’s saccharine drink and giggling into the tiny straws. Bow makes a reference to some kind of inside joke Adora wasn’t there for and Glimmer full on snorts. It’s easy to remember that they have known each other for most of their lives.
Adora twirls the straw in her own drink, a simple rum and coke, and takes in the club around her. She had never been much of a partier in her youth, too busy training for competition with single-minded determination. As she watches the intuitive way the other patrons dance around one another, she finds herself feeling wistful, nostalgic for something she had never really had. The melancholy is only heightened by the dull burn of alcohol against her throat, making everything feel so much more… real.
“Adora.” She looks up to see a soft smile on Bow’s face, his eyebrows creased in understanding, and knows she has been caught in her moment of contemplation. Bow has always been intuitive like that, and he graciously opens up the conversation to her. “Are you having fun?”
“Yeah,” Adora says. It’s not a lie — no matter how awkward and out of place she feels, it is fun. The three of them united to take on the whole world, just like old times. “Do you like it here?”
Bow shrugs. His arm around Glimmer tightens. “It’s fun,” he says nonchalantly, then follows it up with, “Better when you two are here. Oh, Glimmer, any word yet on the house?”
“Enough about the house,” says Glimmer. She rolls her eyes, and Adora knows that any moment the two of them will be at it like an old married couple. She hides a smirk in her drink as the two of them bicker. She lets another sip of alcohol soothe her nerves, the tips of her fingers pressing against the layer of condensation sweating on the cool glass to ground herself.
Glimmer wins the argument when she slides off of Bow’s lap and grabs his hands. “Boring,” she says with a sense of finality, and tugs at their joined hands. “Come on, let’s go dance.”
Bow’s eyes flick to Adora. “But Adora—”
“Will be fine ,” Adora says, rolling her eyes. She gives a light kick to Bow’s legs and says, “Go dance. I’ll meet up with you two later.”
She watches as the crowd envelops them. From her perch on a barstool she can just see the occasional flash of Glimmer’s vibrant hair and Bow’s dark skin in the crowd, the two of them painted in the technicolor of the rapidly shifting lights. They dance like old friends, like young lovers. It makes something burn in the pit of Adora’s stomach, and she swivels her stool to face the bar instead.
The first rum and coke goes down easily, and before she knows it a second one has taken its place. The bartender, a woman with biceps that Adora would kill to coast her hands over, winks. She isn’t sure if it’s nerves or alcohol that causes the burst of heat in her face. It’s been a while, since someone looked at her like that. She likes it.
She stumbles through some halfhearted flirting with the bartender. She has never been good at this, even when she wasn’t thoroughly out of practice. The bartender’s crooked grin just grows and grows, though — only to be replaced by a scowl when she is called over by another patron to mix some ridiculous cocktail so complicated it no doubt violates a labor law or two.
With her only source of entertainment gone, Adora idly swirls in her barstool and drinks her drink. Glimmer and Bow have either been entirely absorbed by the crowd or have found some dark corner to make out in. Adora has a feeling it’s the latter.
Adora is trying to drum up the courage to either delve into the crowded dance floor or go outside for air when she sees her.
She’s wearing a suit — or, she was wearing a suit. The rich burgundy of the pants are well tailored to her form, her lithe legs accentuated by a black racing stripe swept up the side. The jacket has been abandoned and her dress shirt is mussed, the sleeves pushed up her elbows. Her bowtie hangs loose around her neck — she never did like the feeling of being collared , as she used to put it — and the open neck of the unbuttoned shirt dips invitingly low. Adora’s gaze traces up the bare skin of her neck to the sharp angle of her jaw, her head thrown back in an open mouthed laugh.
Catra looks exactly the same as Adora remembers her. She has spent years mapping those features in her memory, trying to recreate the snapshots of her youth against the back of her eyelids when she closed her eyes at night. The clarity of those memories has softened with time, the ache they bring dulled by the years, but they still live within her.
She looks beautiful.
That’s all Adora can think as she watches Catra jeer at the girl next to her, teasing. An unwanted, unwarranted flame of jealousy licks at Adora and she clenches the drink in her hand so tightly that she can feel the grooves on its surface bite into her skin. She sets the half full glass onto the bar and slips from the stool — to do what , she isn’t sure. She hates the gravitational pull Catra has on her, even after all of these years, the same impulse that has always brought her back into Catra’s orbit.
And then, Catra sees her.
She’s still wiping tears of laughter from the corner of her eyes. She glances around the room, her gaze initially grazing over Adora so quickly that Adora almost thinks Catra had missed her— and then her heterochromatic eyes go wide, snapping back to Adora’s face and staying there.
It doesn’t matter how many people are in the crowded club. The world narrows to the two of them despite the number of alcohol-addled bodies that stumble in the space between them. How many years have passed since those eyes were focused on her? Adora doesn’t remember. It hurts that she can’t remember.
Catra takes one step forward, and that’s all Adora needs. She pushes her way through the crowd as fast as she can, her young, strong body easily parting the sea of bodies. When she finally makes it out of the club, she inhales the night air in deep breaths.
Her heart hammers in her chest. She looks at her watch. It’s nowhere near midnight. She still has a few hours left before she has to go home, but the thought of going back inside makes her hands shake. She’ll text Glimmer later— apologize, tell her she didn’t feel well, even though she knows it will just earn her a barrage of concerned messages and calls in the morning. It’s better than interrupting her now, when she finally has the chance to see Bow.
Adora looks out at the street. The clouds have opened up, a fresh shower of summer rain distorting the glare of the streetlights into soft blurs. Down the street, a couple is laughing— kicking up puddles of water at one another, their wet hair matted to their foreheads.
With another shaky breath, Adora takes a step out from under the awning of the club. Just to feel the rain on her skin. Just to feel something.
She goes home.
“Are you okay?”
“Okay, but are you sure you’re—”
“Glimmer,” says Adora exasperatedly, with the same saintlike patience she has exercised over the last week of interrogation, “I’m fine.”
Glimmer eyes her suspiciously, that baby face of hers screwed up in disbelief. Her pink hair is swept to one side, and it curls against her chin. Seeing her like this is starting to feel more and more natural, even though she hadn’t gone through with her proposition of actually dying her hair. “You’re not going to take off again, are you? Not without saying anything?”
“I didn’t want to interrupt you two.” It’s not a complete lie. “I was just tired.” Neither is that. “I won’t do it again.” That might end up being a lie.
Glimmer still doesn’t look convinced. But when Adora raises an eyebrow and says, “Hey, any news about the house?” Glimmer’s face collapses into the anticipated scowl.
“Enough about the house,” mutters Glimmer. “It’s not like any of it matters now, anyway. Come on,” she inclines her head down the street. “Let’s go to Bright Moon.”
Bow waits for the two of them at his usual stool, and he greets Glimmer with the same enthusiasm he had last time. Possibly even more ; Adora thinks there might be tongue involved. The bartender already has a rum and coke sliding across the counter for Adora, so she at least has something to do while third-wheeling. She tries to volley back the playful banter the attractive bartender sends her way, but her heart isn’t in it. Her eyes keep drifting back across the dance floor, into the shadows just on its perimeter where tables are crowded against the walls and bodies are plastered against other bodies.
She seeks Catra out, just as painful and compulsive as a tongue seeking out an aching tooth. Whether it's to soothe or to hurt herself, she isn’t sure. If Catra is on the same weekly limit, today will be the soonest chance she has to log into Etheria. Adora tries to find her face in the crowd, the same way that she has been unconsciously searching for her in every new face she has met since they last parted.
Bow and Glimmer fall all over themselves trying to make sure Adora feels included. Despite her assurances, protests, and pleas, they drag her out to the dance floor. It’s been ages since she has danced— danced like this, at least. Frenzied, free. A thin sheen of sweat cements strands of her loose blonde hair to the side of her face. She feels alive, feels younger than she has in years.
Still, she keeps finding herself looking up, looking out. Scanning the faces of the crowd, hoping to find a pair of familiar eyes focused only on her. It’s stupid and sentimental, a schoolgirl fancy from her college days. But it all feels so real.
Adora waits to make her exit until Bow and Glimmer are too absorbed in one another to notice her slipping away. She swings by the bar for another drink, and is only mildly disappointed to find that her hot bartender is too caught up flirting with someone else to make a drink for her. The drink the other bartender slides her way isn’t quite as strong, but she takes it and wanders off to one of the tables to nurse it alone.
She has only been sitting on the sidelines watching the rest of the world dance by for a few minutes when the scrape of the chair across the table catches her attention.
“Come here often?”
It’s been a long time since anyone has talked to Adora like that — and her first instinct is to laugh at the seemingly young man who has planted himself in the chair in front of her. He’s not unattractive — he’s just not Adora’s type. And he clearly doesn’t recognize her, or else he would know that.
“Uh, no?” Says Adora, shifting uncomfortably.
The young man’s eyebrow lifts. “Are you…”
He trails off. There’s really not a polite way to ask the question he’s trying to ask and it’s not exactly the kind of thing that gets one laid, so instead he adopts a sly smile and says, “Well, maybe I could show you around.”
“Oh, um. That’s… nice of you but it’s really not—”
A hand descends onto her shoulder. Her shoulder is bare except for the thin strap of her short dress, and the sensation of someone’s palm against her skin is so warm it nearly burns. A low chuckle sounds from behind her. It rouses a familiar curl of heat in her abdomen, and Adora’s blunt nails dig into the flesh just above her own knee.
“Beat it.” Adora knows that tone—it hovers just at the cusp between authoritative and taunting, the deceptive playfulness of a predator that likes to play with her food before she eats it.
The man’s eyes flick from Adora’s face to the woman behind her, the fingers of one hand curling into the skin of her shoulder. “We were just—”
“Is it the dementia, or are you just stupid? What part of ‘get lost’ don’t you understand?” This close, Adora wonders if Catra can feel the pulse of her racing heart, or if she’s too caught up in her fun to even notice. With her free hand, Catra loops a tendril of golden blonde hair around one finger playfully and says, “You’re not exactly her type.”
The man colors. His eyes play another round of ping pong between Catra and Adora. Adora doesn’t have to turn around to know what expression Catra is wearing — that shit eating grin she has always reserved for when she topples enemies twice her size.
Catra doesn’t release her grip on Adora until the man scowls and storms away. Cackling, she collapses into the chair next to Adora and angles her body toward her. As if no time has passed at all, she says, “Hey, Adora.”
Those two words stir up a storm of memories within Adora. Catra leaning on the handles of a bicycle as a child, legs bruised and bandaged from the many casualties of childhood. Catra perched on the corner of Adora’s desk, swiping up a worksheet and laughing at the answers. Catra slipping into bed behind her after a long shift, the weight of her arm across Adora’s waist a comforting anchor. A thousand different versions of Catra have said those words to Adora a thousand different times throughout her life.
There are so many things that Adora could say to her — to them, the girl Adora once knew and the woman she became. How much she has missed her, how much she has hated her. Questions, so many questions. More than she could possibly ask over the remaining three hours.
But then Catra rests an elbow on the table and props her chin up on one hand and says, “Still a people pleaser, I see. You should have told him to fuck off,” and Adora sees red.
So that’s how this is going to be. She shouldn’t be surprised.
“I could have handled that myself,” Adora snaps. It’s crazy, how even after all of this time Catra can get under her skin. She’s had so much time — years — to make peace with it. With how the two of them ended. She thought time had been the balm to soothe that pain but it’s still there, a phantom ache she can’t get rid of.
“Yeah, you were really handling it yourself, huh?”
“I would have red-lighted him,” insists Adora. She takes a sip from her drink, because the alternative is screaming in frustration. Her eyes flick over Catra. She looks…
She looks good. All of what— twenty two, twenty three? Her hair is pulled up in a ponytail, which is surprising. Growing up, it was a miracle if she could be bothered to even brush it. Out of the corner of her eye, Adora tries to find any signs of age on her face, looking for the nonexistent lines that should collect around the corners of her mouth, between her two perfectly shaped eyebrows. Nothing. It’s the same for Adora of course— isn’t that the point?— but she still finds herself disappointed. Part of her wants to know what Catra would look like now, if her hair is still that rich brown or if her eyes are still just as vibrant as she remembers.
If her grin is just as irritating as it is now.
“Like what you see?”
“You’re so…” Infuriating. Beautiful. It’s too hot in here, the air too heavy, and Adora is once again struck by how real it feels — and how surreal to have Catra, who seemingly dropped off of the face of the planet after they broke up, beside her.
She needs air.
She stands up so fast that she nearly knocks her drink over. It’s a miracle none of it streaks down the front of her white dress. The legs of the chair scrape against the floor and she’s halfway to breaking her promise to Glimmer and tearing out of Bright Moon when a hand on her wrist stops her.
“Adora, wait—” and God, she’s heard these words before, but they’re even worse now “— stay.” A beat passes and then Catra follows it up with, “Please.”
The please is new.
Adora looks at Catra’s dark hand against her own pale forearm, then up to Catra’s face. The playful arrogance is gone, replaced by something more open, and for the first time it occurs to Adora that maybe she isn’t the only one feeling nervous.
The please is what makes her stay. Slowly, she lowers herself back into the chair. Catra’s hand darts out, carefully nudging her glass back from the edge of the table.
Adora cycles through topics in her mind. What do you talk about with your ex-girlfriend, your former childhood friend? Someone who you once knew better than you knew yourself? They weren’t like that, not anymore— but the casual, “So what have you been up to?” feels wrong. She doesn’t want to know if Catra has sold her house recently, or gotten knee surgery, or any of the other boring topics she has been assaulted with in Bright Moon before, but she doesn’t know if she could bear to hear about what Catra has really been up to. What she has done with her life. If she has a wife, if she has kids.
She has heard those conversations from the other side, when they were two little girls curled together in a twin bed that felt far too big for them and then later, when they were two much bigger girls curled together in a twin bed that felt way too small for them. She had known Catra’s hopes and dreams, had known that she didn’t care about children, had almost worn her engagement ring. Even now, the thought of her having that with someone else was a tangible hurt in her chest.
Catra spares her.
“So, do you live here now?”
It’s such a blunt question. Point blank, so Catra that Adora actually laughs, a short, startled thing. She might as well have asked Adora when she died, and how.
“A visitor,” says Adora. She watches as Catra steals her half-full drink, swiping it over to her side of the table. “I have a friend, he… moved here last year. Sometimes I come with his wife. You?”
Catra takes a swig of Catra’s drink. If they were still in college, Adora would have berated her for that, would have teased Catra until she leaned into her space and purred, “Then let me buy you another one.”
But they’re not in college, and Adora didn’t pay for this drink. She says nothing.
“I’m just here to have a good time,” Catra finally says. “Like everyone else.”
Adora rolls her eyes. “Everything’s just a game to you, isn’t it?”
Catra’s mouth quirks. Her eyes dart around the packed nightclub, from the bodies writhing on the dance floor to those piled against the bar, everyone partying like it's their last night on Earth. “What else would you call this, Adora?”
Her name sounds so good coming out of Catra’s mouth, annoying as she is. The memory of Catra’s voice has been distorted over time, and actually hearing it sends a shiver down Adora’s spine. She doesn’t know what to do with that, so she takes the drink back from Catra and downs the rest of it in one go. The burn of alcohol races down her throat.
“Don’t be rude,” mutters Adora. “Some people live here, you know.” God, she wishes her tolerance slider was lower. She had set it to almost the highest setting, unsure what kind of stupid things might come out of her mouth if faced with Catra.
Catra scoffs. “Yeah, and they’re playing harder than anyone else, aren’t they?”
Adora rolls her eyes. They sit in awkward silence, just watching the dance floor. Adora feels ready to vibrate out of her skin with the tension. For a while, she had spent years imagining what she would say to Catra if she saw her again, torn between wanting to kill her or her kiss her. Once the worst of the growing pains were behind her, she had thought she might even greet her like an old friend. The impenetrable silence is somehow worse than anything she had imagined.
Adora can’t do this.
She stands again, nearly upending the chair, and bolts.
Her promise to Glimmer is the only thing that keeps her from logging out. Instead, she does the mature thing and hides in the ladies’ bathroom, splashing cool water on her face. As nice as it is against her flushed cheeks, it doesn’t make her feel any better — only serves to blur that fragile line between what is real and what isn’t.
She studies herself in the mirror. The girl that stares back at her is pretty, her hair loose around her shoulders in a way that a Type A, uber competitive twenty-something Adora had never really let herself enjoy. The face is young. The expression behind the eyes is old.
The bathroom door creaks open. A familiar face appears behind hers, eyes narrowed.`
“That hasn’t changed, has it,” says Catra sardonically. “Still just running away.”
The final thread snaps. “Don’t talk to me like you know me,” Adora bites out. “A lot has changed, Catra.”
“Could have fooled me.”
Adora slams her hand on the counter. The sting in her palm doesn’t ground her like she thought it would “Why did you follow me?” She whirls around to face Catra, voice rising in frustration. “Just to fight? Is that what you want? To throw it all in my face, again, over, what, something that happened decades ago, as if it even matters anymore?” That one hurts. She can see it in the slight widening of Catra’s eyes, but she keeps going. “Will that make you h—”
The door to one of the stalls slips open.
An excruciatingly long moment spans out between the two of them as a girl stumbles out of it as nonchalantly as possible. Adora shuffles out of the way so that she can get to the sink. She’s well past the age to care what random strangers think, but she still can’t help the flush on her face.
“Can you, um—?”
“Huh? Oh, yeah, sure,” Catra says, and awkwardly moves out of the way of the paper towel dispenser.
Adora has never seen anyone take more time to dry their hands in her entire life. If she was old when this conversation started, she’s ancient now.
Just when Adora thinks the girl is going to finally leave, she turns to Adora with wide eyes and says, “Hey, aren’t you—”
“Oh my God, can you just go already?!” Catra snaps, and for once Adora is grateful for her abrasive nature. The girl chirps an apology and scampers out of the room.
Adora manages to hold back her laughter just long enough for the door to swing shut.
“Her face, you shouldn’t have…” she tries. Her admonishment is weakened by giggles coming out of her mouth.
Across the room, Catra jams her hands into the pockets of her dark jeans and rolls her eyes. “What, did you want me to wait until she pulled out a sharpie and asked you to sign her tits?”
Wouldn’t be the first time. That just makes Adora laugh harder.
A familiar silence fills the room once Adora’s giggles have trailed off. The pounding of the beat outside the room vibrates against the walls, and Adora can barely make out the words of the song from the volume. When she looks up, Catra is just… watching her.
“I didn’t want to fight, Adora,” says Catra quietly. “I just wanted to talk.” She pushes off of the wall and makes her way to the door. “I can—”
Adora’s hand whips out. “Wait, don’t—” she catches Catra around the wrist before she can make it through the door. Catra stills. Her gaze drifts between Adora’s hand on her wrist to her eyes.
Adora swallows. She wants to talk too. She doesn’t know how to talk to Catra.
She kisses her instead.
It’s just as clumsy and awkward as the first time they did it, seventeen years old in Adora’s bedroom and hoping no one came barging in while they were supposed to be studying. Her nose bumps against Catra’s, her heart pounds in her chest. It only lasts for a second before she pulls away in shock, and stammers out an, “I’m sorry, I—”
Catra clearly isn’t. She surges forward, pressing Adora back against the dark surface of the counter behind her. Her mouth is warm against Adora’s, her hips warm under her hands even through the fabric of her shirt — she always did run hot — and no matter what Adora does, she can’t pull her close enough.
She doesn’t care about the edge of the counter biting into her skin, she doesn’t care about the fact that anyone could walk in on them. All she cares about is kissing Catra deeper and deeper, drinking her fill after years of being parched.
When Catra pulls away to do something as irritating as breathe , Adora chases her lips. Catra’s hands catch her face, holding it in place. Her blown pupils and swollen lips are all Adora can focus on when she says breathlessly, “How much have you had to drink?”
“Doesn’t matter,” says Adora, “I—”
“No, really, my tolerance slider is almost at the maximum.”
Catra quirks an eyebrow, a sly smile spreading on her lips. One of her thumbs brushes a slow, unconscious circle against Adora’s cheekbone, the soft gesture a sharp contrast to their earlier activity. “Oh, yeah? Come to Etheria to explore your wildest fantasy of not being a lightweight?”
“Shut up,” mutters Adora.
“Are you going to make me?”
The next time they pull apart, she whispers, “We should… go somewhere.”
Adora had expected….
Adora doesn’t know what she had expected.
A back room, a hotel? One of the many luxe high-rises crawling up into the city skyline? She hadn’t expected Catra to veer her car — a red, sporty little thing whose engine she revs with unbridled glee — out of city limits and onto one of the highways. The blur of city lights fade into the background, and then it’s just the two of them, a net of stars cast into the dark heavens above. They crest a bend in the road and suddenly the ocean runs the side of the road to their right, its dark waves rolling against the shore in a susurrus that fills the night. Adora closes her eyes and listens to it, lets the wind whip her loose hair around her face. It’s been so long since she has seen the ocean.
They don’t talk much during the drive. The radio croons songs that Adora hasn’t heard in years, but she’s more focused on the way Catra hums along than on the actual lyrics. She drives so fast that Adora’s heart pounds in her chest — not with fear, but with exhilaration.
The beach house Catra pulls up to is smaller than Adora had expected. The Catra she remembers was extravagant — whether for personal pleasure or for the status symbol, it was always hard to tell. She hadn’t had much growing up, had clawed her way out of her humble beginnings with single-minded determination. Suddenly, Adora wants to know everything about her. What she did with her life. How far she managed to climb.
Inside, it feels even smaller. It’s nice, though. Neatly kept, nicely decorated. Essentially one big room with a kitchen off to the side. A plush bed has been pushed up against a giant, open window, gauzy curtains streaming in the night breeze. It drifts through the room, lifting the sheets off of a set of covered canvases amassed in one corner. Catra had always liked to paint, and Adora’s fingers itch to pull the coverings away.
“You’re sure settled in,” Adora says distractedly, taking in the pictures on the wall, the tasteful decoration. For a moment, she wonders if Catra has brought any other girls back here. It’s stupid how her stomach clenches at the thought. “How long have you been coming here?”
“A while,” Catra says noncommittally, and then her hands are on Adora’s waist, pulling her in.
Aside from their earlier rendezvous in the bathroom, it’s been a long time since anyone has kissed Adora. Even longer since anyone has kissed her like this. She curls her fingers around Catra’s jaw, tries to fit their mouths even closer together. She pushes one hand back through the hair at the base of Catra’s skull and relishes the way it feels against her fingers. Catra’s lips are soft, a sharp contrast to the teeth that sink into Adora’s lower lip, drawing it in.
Adora lets her in, lets Catra’s hands on her waist guide her slowly back towards the bed. She presses her fingers into that spot just behind her ear that Catra used to like and is rewarded with an open-mouthed groan against her lips. Her own mouth curves into a smile at the sound. She uses the leverage to pull Catra deeper into the kiss, her fingers pulling tendrils of Catra’s hair from its ponytail with each pass against her scalp.
A single, questioning finger hooks under the thin strap of her dress, pulls it gently down the slope of her shoulder. Adora could blink, and it would all come off — but she takes her time instead, pulling the fabric of Catra’s shirt from where it’s tucked into her pants, bunching it between her fingers so she can feel the warm skin underneath. She maps out the ridges of Catra’s ribcage with the pads of her fingers, exploring that once familiar landscape like a traveller coming home.
Catra’s hands fumble with the zipper of Adora’s dress. Impatient, she reaches behind herself to assist — but it doesn’t matter how coordinated she might have been in competition, her mind is already occupied with kissing, trying to stay upright, and dragging the zipper of her dress downward. She can barely handle the first task, let alone the other two.
The world tilts and Catra tilts with it. Undone by her own shoelace, Adora finds herself falling backwards onto the bed. She drags Catra down with her, and it’s a miracle their faces don’t smack together.
Way to ruin the moment, Adora, she thinks, her face hot with embarrassment as well as arousal. The weight of Catra’s body against hers is achingly familiar and Adora wants to pull her tighter, press up against her until she no longer knows the difference to the two. She feels Catra shake against her for a moment and pulls back, worried that maybe she had hit something on the way down.
Catra pushes up so that she’s nearly straddling Adora and laughs. Adora sits up a little bit, pushing herself up on her haunches — and then she’s laughing too, something about the scene feeling strangely familiar.
“You’re such an idiot,” says Catra. With the back of her hand, she wipes tears of laughter from her eyes. Her hair is mussed around her face, her ponytail hanging on by a thread. Her shirt is half undone, and Adora has never hated buttons so much in her life.
Catra moves off of her, dropping into a crouch at the edge of the bed. Adora misses her weight instantly. She pushes herself into a sitting position and watches, confused, as Catra makes quick work of the tennis shoes and socks on her feet.
“Who wears tennis shoes—” she throws one of the shoes over her shoulder without a care in the world “—to a nightclub?”
“They’re easy to move in,” Adora says sensibly, “I didn’t exactly think I would be doing… this.”
“Oh, yeah?” Catra asks, one eyebrow arched.
She’s so arrogant. She’s always been so arrogant. Adora has half a mind to give her a playful kick, but she looks so pretty in the moonlight. Her mismatched eyes look so dark. Before she knows what she’s doing, Adora leans forward and catches Catra’s jaw in her hand, gently cupping the slope of it in her palm.
“Yeah,” Adora breathes, their gazes locking together in the dark room.
And then Catra’s hands are smoothing up her legs, brushing at the bare skin of her thighs, pushing up the flimsy fabric of her skirt and her mouth is hot against the inside of Adora’s knee and then it’s all a blur.
Outside, the ocean crashes against the shore.
Afterward, skin dampened by sweat, Adora sinks into the layers of bedding and studies Catra’s face.
Her eyes are closed but she isn’t sleeping. Her eyelashes brush her cheeks, and her now loose hair pools, rich and dark, on the white pillow beneath her. She really does look the same.
“Are you still staring, you weirdo?”
One eye — the blue one — peeks open. Despite everything they just did, getting caught staring is what makes Adora blush.
“That was really stupid,” is her only response. It wasn’t intentional, but the thought has been running in a loop through her mind all night.
“Yeah, it was,” Catra agrees. She pushes up on one arm and the sheet slips slowly down her chest. Adora’s eyes follow the movement. “Want to do it again?”
They don’t talk much after that. Adora is surprised when Catra curls into her chest after the second time, pressing her face into the dip of Adora’s neck. Adora holds her quietly, running a gentle finger down the length of her damp spine.
“How much time is left?” She murmurs into Catra’s hair.
Catra shifts against her. “Who cares?”
A compelling argument. Adora closes her eyes and inhales the familiar scent of Catra’s hair, and they lay like that until the timer runs out.
“ I said no!” Glimmer’s face hovers in the space above Adora’s phone, her hologram pacing back and forth so furiously that Adora thinks it might actually wear a trail onto the device’s surface. She puts her hands on her hips, a gesture that she still complains makes her look like her long dead mother. “If you’re just going to disappear again, you’re not coming in with me.”
“I did not disappear,” scoffs Adora. She shuffles around the apartment, watering plants as she goes. It’s not as easy as it used to be, but she’s still spry. Sunlight streams into the apartment, glancing off of picture frames and knick knacks and trophies, mementos from a long, full life. “I sent you and Bow a message.”
“That you ran off with some girl,” says Glimmer, accusatory. She runs a hand through her salt and pepper hair and says, “ Aren’t you too old for that, Adora?”
“She isn’t exactly any younger,” mutters Adora. “Look, I sent you a message. Isn’t that why you wanted me to go, anyway? So I don’t…” she grasps at strings for Glimmer’s exact words “...work myself into an early grave?”
It’s the same thing Catra used to say to her, how many years ago? Forty something? Almost fifty? Back when Adora would wear herself down to the bone during training or spend days on end awake for classes. When it was clear her competitive career was over, she had thrown that same dedication into coaching and fundraising. She had always been in tune with her body, except for when it begged her to slow down. She had always needed someone else to pull her back from the ledge of overexertion.
It hadn’t seemed like a big deal when she was young — in her twenties, even in her thirties and forties. She had always had something bigger to propel her forward. Some days, though, it feels like all she has are aching knees and a big, empty apartment.
“...so you can disappear again? Bow and I were worried sick…”
Adora rolls her eyes. There’s a reason Bow and Glimmer’s children had escaped to “Auntie Adora’s” place every now and then. She can’t tell if the headache building behind her eyes is a result of caffeine deficiency or Glimmer’s incessant lecturing.
“...and I thought you didn’t even like Etheria…”
It isn’t that she doesn’t like Etheria, it’s just…
There really isn’t a better word for it. The technology has been operational for about fifteen years now, and Adora knows plenty of people who have made the transition. Life after life is the tagline for funerary packages, but it’s used for therapeutic purposes as well. An oasis for the mind, a virtual reality escape for those whose minds outlast their bodies. Adora eyes the chip where it sits loading on its dock, edges suffused in pulsing light. Hers had come as a promotional package — it had been endorsed by actors and artists, politicians and popstars. Why not an Olympic medalist?
She hadn’t used it. Adora had never felt the need to be beamed up into the cloud, to relive her glory days in some delusional haze. There is a reason tourists and visitors have a weekly limit of five hours. Adora has heard the rumors — disassociation, delusions, brain damage from overuse. She may not be as young as she once was, but she likes her life. She’s just as proud of the lines on her face as she is the medals and trophies scattered across her apartment. She doesn’t need to pretend to be another version of herself.
And then Bow had died.
She had held Glimmer’s fragile hand all through the funeral. She had held it the first time they went into the system too, the chip blinking in tandem on their temples. She remembers the look on their faces when Glimmer and Bow werehad been reunited. The sorrow, the relief, the joy. The two of them had been together almost their whole lives — and now, even after. A love untouched by death.
Adora could have had someone like that.
She doesn’t realize she has gone quiet until Glimmer is repeating her name and snapping her finger at her.
“Are you going senile?” It’s a joke, but concern creeps into her tone.
“That’s rich, coming from you, ” says Adora. She waits a beat and then says, “It’s Catra.”
Her apartment is silent other than the quiet vibration of the hologram. Glimmer knows of Catra, even if she has never met her — Glimmer is a chapter of Adora’s life that opened just after the other one had slammed shut. They had met during those messy years after the breakup. She never could have known that in Glimmer she would find a lifelong friend, just like she could never have known that she would lose one in Catra.
“ Adora… ”
Before Glimmer can unleash the lecture to come, her tone already taking on the tone of one who has spent years admonishing children and grandchildren for their stupidity, Adora cuts in.“I need to see her again,” Adora says. She sounds so stupid.
Another quiet lull fills the air. Finally, Glimmer heaves a monumental sigh. “Fine. But only because it will give Bow something to talk about other than selling the stupid house.”
Adora doesn’t see her again.
She stays alert the entire night, sitting at the bar and idly stirring at her drink while arching her neck over the crowd. When she gets dragged to the dance floor by Bow and Glimmer, she halfheartedly sways to the music and keeps an eye out for Catra. There isn’t a trace of those mismatched eyes or sharp smile anywhere in Bright Moon, neither crowded against the bar nor shaking on the dancefloor nor stooped over the vintage arcade games and pool tables.
Overwhelmed, Adora turns her tolerance slider down. Each drink brings a different emotion. Concern. Anger. Hurt. Humiliation. Arousal. Anger again. She slams each one back just to feel something and almost wishes she could feel the unfamiliar ache of a hangover in the morning, a racing heartbeat and a pounding head and a nauseous stomach — something to prove to her that this, any of this could possibly be real.
She spills it to the attractive bartender. “I have an Olympic gold medal, you know. THREE of them.” It’s a good pickup line, one she has never really used. It’s the smoothest thing she manages to get out all night, because next thing she knows, she has slurred the whole sordid affair to her captive audience, from when she met Catra as kids to their almost engagement to all of the ways it had come crashing down.
“And now she’s avoiding me, or… or…” Adora doesn’t know what to think. She presses a cool, nearly empty glass against her forehead, hoping to chase away the pounding she feels there.
“Try another time,” is what the bartender suggests. She leans forward and slips the glass from Adora’s hand.
Adora barks out a laugh. “Another time? Wait it out, hope it makes up for all of the lost time? It’s not going to happen. We’re old now.”
The bartender’s mouth quirks. “No, another time.” She slides another drink across the counter, something orange and saccharine that makes Adora’s teeth and stomach ache just to look at. “Another era.”
2042 / 2043 / 2051 / 2066 / 2072 / 2048 / 2044
The following week, Adora takes a different route.
She still goes in at the same time as Glimmer. She doesn’t have a choice; their permissions are tied together. Without a caretaker or nurse to authorize anything other than a visitor’s pass, she’s limited on the days and times she can go, and with who — but not exactly on when, since the locals can move between years too. Glimmer sets her year to 2041.
Adora keeps going.
She dances through the strands of time programmed into the system. The first week, she jumps forward just a year or two — 2042, 2043, just before the breakup. They had still been happy, stupid kids. The billboards that loom in the night sky are familiar, tall video screens rather than the holographic advertisements that flood the night air with fractured light in her real time. There are film names scrolling across the marquees that she once watched in theaters with friends, flyers for bands that have long since broken up.
In 2051, she sports the short, choppy haircut that was popular at the time. In 2066, it’s long, and dyed at the tips. She remembers how stupid she had found the fashion of the 2060s, and how strange it had been to see the styles of her youth popularized again in the 2070s. She almost wishes she could keep the jacket from 2048. She’s twenty two, over and over and over again, each weekend spent experiencing that age right on the cusp of adulthood as she weaves in and out of time periods, searching for Catra.
In the summer of 2044, she wanders past a sports bar and sees her own face.
It’s a post competition interview, so the Adora on the screen is sweaty and breathless, hair matted to the side of her red face. She wipes a strand of hair off of her cheek and says something that’s either humble, or naive, or both, about how it’s anyone’s guess who will win the competition, that she’s just glad she gave it her all.
She had taken gold. If this were real life, the picture of her holding back tears on the podium would be all over the internet by the next morning.
Adora keeps walking. There’s no way Catra would choose to be here.
It takes weeks before Adora finds her again, the slow drain of the five hour timer taunting her every Friday night.
She finds her in Bright Moon in 2073, playing a fighting game with a purple-haired girl in the club’s small arcade. Adora hangs back, watching. Her hair is different, but Adora would recognize her anywhere. Confident and sleek as always, Catra leans over the controls of the game, triggering the joystick with a quick combo. On the table in front of her, her holographic avatar lunges forward, taking down her opponent like a predator falling on prey. The girl next to Catra is oddly still — but her moves are quick and calculated. Her avatar’s hair grasps Catra’s character by the waist and bodily slams her, and Adora can almost feel the programmed vibration that she is sure runs up Catra’s fingers.
It’s an odd game and an odd era. They would have been in their early fifties before the year rolled around, and Adora feels almost none of the same fondness she had for the previous years. The holo-table humming in front of Catra would have been new then, a form of luxury entertainment rather than the board room and arcade staple it is in Adora’s real time.
From there, the game is pretty much over. Catra gives a dramatic groan and slumps against the holo-table when the other girl’s avatar pummels her health bar down to zero.
“You’re too impatient,” says the other girl. She shakes her head, and her purple ponytails bounce around her brown shoulders. “If you would follow the commands, you would improve your odds by—”
“Yeah, yeah,” says Catra. She pushes herself up from the surface and says, “I almost had you this time.”
“No, you didn’t,” says the other girl cheerfully. “Do you want to play again?”
“Yeah, right,” Catra scoffs, taking a step back. “I’m going to go drown my losses in—”
The words die in her throat when she sees Adora.
She’s been picturing this moment for weeks, variations of anger, hurt, and longing running through her mind. The flames of frustration she has been stoking are doused by the sheer relief at seeing Catra’s face, and all Adora can offer is, “Hey, Catra.”
In this era, she looks different. Her hair is shorter than Adora has ever seen it, cropped and slicked back. It suits her — lays more of her conflicted face bare for Adora to study.
Before Adora can get another word in, Catra darts past her.
She’s always been the fast one. She weaves through the crowd efficiently and Adora stumbles after her, nearly bowling other people over in inelegant pursuit. At one point she has to jam an elbow into the ribs of some guy that grabs her by the waist. She’s grateful that the strength that had propelled her through four different Olympics is easily at her disposal in Etheria as well.
Adora follows Catra not through the open doors of Bright Moon but up the rickety stairs that lead to the club’s rooftop patio. She shivers — it’s colder than she expected, and the red romper she had chosen doesn’t offer much warmth.
The rooftop patio is decidedly calmer than the frenetic dance floor below. Even up here, Adora can feel the vibration of the music against her feet, the beat nothing compared to the pounding of her heart.
“Catra, will you just stop?” Adora demands, hand on Catra’s arm.
“Let go of me,” snaps Catra. The volume of her voice alerts those around her. A few of them slip through the door just past Adora and Catra. Adora is too worked up to care about having an audience.
“You’re such a pain in the ass,” she says, fresh waves of anger rolling through her body. “Since when were you the one to run away?”
Catra’s eyes go wide. It’s a low blow, one that’s out of Adora’s mouth before she knows what she’s saying. Nauseous guilt rolls in her stomach. She wonders if this is how Catra felt for so long, watching Adora leave her behind again and again in search of bigger, better things. Anger and humiliation give way to shame.
Mouth tight, Catra’s gaze drifts down to Adora’s hand on her wrist. It’s both a warning and a plea, and Adora’s hand falls away immediately. She expects Catra to rush down the stairs past her, maybe even log out then and there — but instead Catra heads to the far side of the patio to lean against the railing instead. Uncertain, Adora follows.
The city is splayed out beneath them, the web of the streets illuminated in bright lines and neon signs, the occasional holographic advertisement dancing in shop windows or on the tops of businesses. It’s early in their development, so there are the occasional glitches, and the larger than life advertisements don’t flood the night air off the highways like they do in Adora’s time. The relative darkness is a welcome reprieve from the typical onslaught of light pollution.
She brings her hands to the railing, letting them ghost hesitantly across its surface. At her side, Catra’s shoulders are bunched up in agitation — and then she heaves a sigh and they droop.
“I’m sorry,” she mutters.
Another apology. It’s so unlike her — or rather, it’s so unlike how she used to be. Time can change a lot. Under the youthful facade is someone who has had just as many years to change as Adora has.
Catra runs a hand through her short hair, dislodging a lock. It falls in her face and Adora’s hands tighten around the rail, resisting the urge to brush it away. She looks smaller, somehow, without that familiar mass of dark hair that Adora used to love tangling her hands in.
“I’m sorry too,” Adora says. For leaving her? For following her? There are too many things Adora has to be sorry for, so she leaves it at that. She lets the apology hang in the air, hoping Catra accepts it.
An awkward semi-silence fills the space between the two of them. Their earlier shouting match had driven the other patrons from the roof, but down below the streets still echo with laughter, with the hum of vehicles rushing over wet pavement. In the darkness beyond the skyscrapers’ silhouettes is a vast ocean and a sandy beach. Adora wishes she could close her eyes and hear the familiar crash.
“I should go,” Adora says. Her hand slips from the railing, only to be intercepted by a smaller, darker one.
“Adora,” is all Catra says, not even turning to look at her. “Stay.”
Slowly, she turns her hand until it’s pressing, palm to palm, with Catra’s.
“Okay,” she says.
They stand like that for a while, hand in hand. Eventually, Adora asks into the quiet night air, “So… were you avoiding me?
Catra shivers. Judging by the well cut leather jacket she wears, it’s not from the weather. “I didn’t know if you were going to come back, Adora,” she says quietly. She gives a dry laugh, but doesn’t drop her hand from Adora’s. “And I didn’t want to stick around and find out if you didn’t, I…” she scans the skyline ahead of them, as if she’s searching for something, and finishes, “I wanted to make that choice this time.”
Guilt bites at Adora. She rubs her thumb over the back of Catra’s hand and says, voice shaking, “I came back.”
For the first time, Catra turns to look at her. She studies Adora’s face for a moment and then says, “Yeah, I guess you did.”
They actually talk this time.
Tangled in the sheets, Adora does what she had been too scared to do on the rooftop. With gentle fingers, she brushes a loose lock of hair from Catra’s face. She has sure done a number on it over the course of the night. The combination of gel and sweat pushes it up into odd angles. She watches as Catra’s eyes flutter closed, leaning into the touch.
“You look different like this,” Adora murmurs.
“What, am I getting old?”
Adora rolls her eyes. “You know what I mean.” She hesitates and then asks, “Did you… ever cut your hair like this?”
Catra’s eyes open. They lock on Adora’s for a moment, studying the planes of her face. Adora flushes. She wants to actually talk to Catra, about something more than hair. Judging by the slight raise of Catra’s eyebrows, she understands — it’s a start.
“Yeah,” Catra sighs. She shifts, sitting up ever so slightly against the pillows. Adora’s hand falls from her face. “When I was like. Twenty five? Twenty six?”
“I like it.”
“Yeah, I noticed,” says Catra with a sharp grin, and Adora swats at her.
Salty air rolls in through the open windows, sending the gauzy curtains fluttering overhead. It’s far darker out here than it had been in the crowded city streets, but Adora likes it. It’s like she’s twenty one, twenty two again, lying in the dark of their tiny apartment and watching the rise and fall of Catra’s chest as she sleeps. “I couldn’t find you.”
“Obviously,” Catra scoffs. “I didn’t expect you to actually stalk me across time and space.”
“No, I couldn’t find you out there,” Adora says. She says the last word quietly, as if saying it too loud might rupture something fragile.
Catra stares up at the ceiling for a moment. “I didn’t exactly want you to find me. I changed my last name,” she says. She’s quiet for another beat before she adds, “I got married.”
Adora closes her eyes. A part of her — the part that couldn’t leave Catra behind, not entirely — had always wondered. Her own life had been driven by purpose, first through competition and then the long life of coaching and philanthropy that had followed. It was what she had been raised for, the goal that fueled her entire life. So many relationships had fallen by the wayside in pursuit of it. It wasn’t until it was long gone that Adora had realized what she really wanted.
Catra had always been cut from the same cloth. Ambitious, driven, somewhat reckless. Through it all, though, she had always had a place carved out for Adora. Adora had left that willingly. It was selfish — and stupid — to think someone else wouldn’t have taken that place.
She rolls to her side and eyes Catra’s left hand, casually draped over her own abdomen. No ring there, not even a tan line.
“What happened to her? Your wife?”
Catra shrugs, the movement casual. “It didn’t work out,” she says. “We just… wanted different things. We stayed friends, though.”
Scorched earth was the only way Adora could have described their own breakup. Those once fertile grounds had been salted and stripped, years of love and friendship laid to waste. They had said a lot of things to each other — most of it true, all of it cruel. The thought of being friends with Catra after that had been unimaginable.
It seems stupid now. Adora’s lived long enough to know that her twenty-something self hadn’t been as smart, hadn’t been as selfless as she thought she had been. They could have mended that bridge a long time ago.
Rolling to her side, Catra fixes her mismatched eyes on Adora and asks, “What about you? Anyone waiting on the other side?”
Adora shrugs. “I have friends,” she says, as nonchalantly as she can. “But there wasn’t —there’s no one…”
She lets the words trail off. No one else? No one like that?
No one like you?
Catra doesn’t push, doesn’t tease. Instead, she props herself up on one arm and studies Adora in the silver moonlight. Mercifully, she changes the subject — and instead plies Adora with questions about her life until their time is up.
2041 / 2042 / 2058 / 2069 / 1999 / 1978 / 1983 / 1992
The watershed of that moment smoothes the way for the two of them. Who would have known — actually talking about things makes them better. Adora spends the next week going through the rote and routine of her life and idly wonders what Catra is doing the entire time. Who she’s with, whether she’s thinking of her. What she looks like now. She had suggested exchanging contact information and Catra had shrugged it off. It had stung, but Adora understands. She isn’t ready yet either.
The distance makes her all the more relieved to see Catra’s grin the next Friday, when she pulls up to Bright Moon in her shiny red car and honks the horn with enough force to make Adora jump. She flushes, suddenly warm in the cool night air, eyes darting to Glimmer just outside the entrance of the club.
Glimmer rolls her eyes. “Fine. Go have fun,” she says, and nudges Adora with her elbow. Grinning, Adora slides into the seat of Catra’s car.
“Where to, princess?”
From then on, she divides her time in Etheria between her friends and Catra. She dances with Catra in crowded clubs, free and laughing in a way that she hadn’t been able to as a young woman. She runs into the black waves of the ocean in the dead of night, laughing, then spends the rest of the evening getting warm in Catra’s bed. They spend full evenings making s’mores on the beach and filling the night air with stories, their conversations filled with both Remember when? And So this one time…
It hurts, to know she missed so much of Catra’s life. She knows that Catra feels the same from the way her hand tightens around Adora’s when someone recognizes her in the streets, or when Adora starts recounting a funny story only to remember halfway through that it had been Glimmer or some ex-girlfriend, not Catra, who had been with her.
There are so many new memories to be made, though. Catra takes her to The Fright Zone, a punk club on the edge of the city, and woops with laughter when Adora manages to best a line of men twice her size in an arm wrestling competition. They jump through times, rewatch old movies in theaters together. They go back in time — to times they hadn’t even been born alive for. They count down the new millennium as 1999 turns to 2000. Catra sees Adora’s bouffant hair in 1983 and almost dies laughing. They avoid the 2020s like the plague — nothing good happened then.
She meets Catra's friends. Entrapta, a local who knows enough about the Etheria system that Adora can't help but wonder if she had had a part in it's invention. Lonnie, a tourist and patron of The Fright Zone whose friendship with Catra can be described as contentious at best.
It takes a bit of needling, but eventually Catra relents to being introduced to her friends. She has never been particularly good at sharing, but it takes more coaxing than expected before she agrees to meet up with Bow and Glimmer. She vibrates with anxiety the entire time, and her and Glimmer clash a bit at first, but it warms Adora’s heart to see the three of them interact. A painful stab in the pit of her stomach reminds her that this could have been her life.
Adora doesn’t know what she’s doing, spending Friday nights out in a simulation, making up for lost time as if she isn’t an old woman now.
She feels Catra’s laughter vibrate against her back as she leans over her, though, chin propped up on Adora’s shoulder and hands snaked under her arms to mess with the controls of the game Adora is trying to play in Bright Moon’s tiny arcade in 1992.
She doesn’t know what she’s doing, but it feels like falling in love.
“We should meet up,” Adora says one night.
She’s been thinking about it for a while. They’ve been doing… whatever this is for a few months now. During the weeks, Adora goes about her business. Signs off on things for her foundation. She would be retired, but boredom has always been anathema to her. On Friday evenings, she slips the chip onto her temple and sinks into Etheria. It’s fun, but she wants…
She wants more.
Adora isn’t a twenty two year old girl. She’s a grown woman — an old woman. Happy as she is to spend her evenings dancing with Catra and running on the beach, it’s not enough. She wants someone at home with her in the evenings. Even more, she wants someone to wake up with in the mornings.
Catra shifts in her arms, groggy. Outside, a summer storm has been raging for a few hours. It has died down, just a bit, but light rain still dapples the window panes. “Yeah? Same time next week?”
Adora runs a finger down Catra’s sweat-slick spine — gently, reverentially, and says, “No, I mean outside.”
Catra’s body goes stiff against hers. The room is still for a moment, the only noise the lapping of the ocean waves against the shore. Suddenly, she sits up. “That’s not a good idea.”
Adora’s arms fall away from her chest. Eyebrows knitting together, she follows Catra, pushing herself into a sitting position. “Why not?”
“I’m not as flexible out there,” Catra jokes.
Adora rolls her eyes. “Catra.”
“What? It’s true.”
Adora watches in confusion as Catra slips from the bed and fumbles for her discarded clothing. “That’s not what this is about, I want to…” There are so many things she wants to do. “I want to see you.”
“Aren’t you seeing me now?” Catra asks, yanking on a pair of pants. She ransacks the floor for a shirt and lands on a button up. Adora watches her shrug into it and start on the buttons with quick, efficient fingers.
“You know what I mean,” Adora says. “I don’t exactly look the same, either. We could… get coffee.” Get coffee. It sounds absurd . Based on the arch of Catra’s eyebrow, she thinks so too. “I want to see you. For real.”
Catra’s hands go still, leaving her shirt hanging half open. “What do you mean, for real? Is this not real enough for you?” She gestures around the beach house, from the plush bed to the covered canvases in the corner of the room, to the rattling window panes behind the bed.
Annoyance rises, hot and fast. Adora gathers the sheet around herself and says, “What’s so wrong with that? Why are you acting like this?”
“I just don’t get what the point is,” Catra says in exasperation. “Why?” She demands. “When has anything good ever happened for us out there?” Instead of storming out of the room, like Adora had expected her to, she sinks down onto the bed. Her pretty eyes are almost the same color in the dark night, and they’re open and pleading in a way that makes Adora ache. Catra’s hand trails across the white sheets — not quite landing on Adora’s, but not far, and she says, “We’re happy here, aren’t we? Why can’t we just stay here? ”
“Catra,” Adora says. She lifts a hand to push a tendril of hair from Catra’s cheek, trails the back of her fingers against the soft skin there. “It’s not real.”
Catra recoils from the touch as if she’s been slapped. Instinctively, Adora reaches for her again — but Catra swats her hand away.
“Catra, think about it, we can-”
“Don’t touch me.” Catra pushes herself up from the bed so fast that she nearly stumbles on the cool floorboards. “Why is nothing ever good enough for you? Why can’t you just stay, and be happy?”
“I didn’t mean—”
“Don’t you get it, Adora?” Catra snaps. Her voice is shaking — she has always cried when she was frustrated, ever since she was a little girl. She used to dig the heel of her hand into her eyes, more to hide the tears than to wipe them away. Somehow, the thought just makes Adora angrier. “If I had wanted to find you out there, I would have. I didn’t.” Her hands ball at her side. Not with the urge to hit something, Adora knows. She can already imagine the crescent marks of Catra’s blunt nails digging into her palm. “I didn’t want to.”
Anger and hurt lash at Adora. The two emotions rage within her, and she’s nearly dizzy with it — it’s almost impressive, how Catra manages to pull out a rawness of emotion that she hasn’t felt in years, even the bad ones.
Catra’s plea — Why can’t you just stay? — still pounds in her ears, but Adora doesn’t care.
There’s almost an hour to midnight.
Without another word, she logs out.
Adora doesn’t feel any better by the next morning.
She splashes water on her face. She feels every one of her nearly seventy years as she watches her expression in the mirror. She looks nothing like the girl who had stormed away from Catra — yesterday, years ago — except for those cornflower blue eyes.
Guilt and hurt plague her in tandem. Catra’s voice echoes through her head. If I had wanted to find you, I would have.
She supposes she isn’t much better. She had tried to cut Catra off completely, had ignored any news of her life until she was so far behind Adora that she no longer knew where to look. Until she was so far behind that Adora hadn’t known where she got into law school, or what she had done after, or whether or not she was married. It was a luxury Catra hadn’t had — their breakup had coincided with Adora’s rise to the top. She wouldn’t have been able to turn on the TV that summer without being reminded of her.
She makes coffee, alone. She eats breakfast, alone. She rifles through emails for the foundation just to distract herself. She repeats those words that she had told Catra. It’s not real. She tries to ground herself in this reality instead, but finds it so… lacking.
When her phone buzzes at her side, she is at once relieved and frustrated to see Glimmer’s name on the caller ID. Instead of plastering on a smile and tamping down her issues the way she normally does, she unleashes the torrent of bitterness and hurt.
“Adora,” Glimmer tries to interject, over and over.
“She makes me so angry,” Adora says for the fifteenth time. She runs a hand over her sleek white ponytail, the same style she has been wearing for most of her life. Easy, practical, consistent. The complete opposite of how she feels right now. “Things have been going so well. I just — I don’t understand why she doesn't want to—”
“ Adora. ”
Glimmer’s tone is soft.
That’s what makes Adora pause. It’s not the usual sigh of exasperation she lets out when Adora is being bullheaded, or the sharp, admonishing tone she uses when shouting at a child or grandchild to clean up a mess. It’s the soft tone that she uses when bandaging a scraped knee or comforting a bereaved friend.
When she looks at the hologram of Glimmer’s face hovering over the phone, her eyes are glassy.
“Adora,” Glimmer says quietly. “ Don’t you know? ”
“I thought you knew,” says Glimmer gently. Her hands fiddle with the thin tablet in her hands. She makes an aborted gesture, as if wanting to give it to Adora and then deciding against it. She places it on the table instead. An offering.
They’re at Glimmer’s house. It looks picture-perfect, carefully decorated in a style that Adora knew was manufactured to appeal to potential buyers rather than an indication of Glimmer’s own over ornamental tastes. Adora knows how she feels about it — torn between the anguish of being the sole occupant of a place that had once been home to her and Bow as newlyweds, as new parents, as empty-nesters and the fear of letting go of a place with so many memories. It’s a welcome escape from Adora’s own empty apartment.
She presses the heel of her palms into her eyes. They’re red-rimmed, but she hasn’t cried. She thinks she can do this.
She picks up the tablet, takes one glance at the obituary staring up at her.
She can’t do this.
“Adora,” Glimmer had said, tears already rolling down her face, “Adora, Catra is a local. ”
Adora slides the tablet away and puts her head in her hands instead.
“I’m so sorry,” Glimmer says. She places a cup of steaming coffee before Adora and sinks into the chair next to her. “I thought…”
“I’m so stupid,” Adora says quietly.
“You didn’t know.”
“I should have known.” She lets out a wet laugh. “I— she never really talks about what she’s up to now, I should have—”
She should have asked. She should have realized. It all seems so obvious now — the way Catra had danced around the question that first night, the way she had been so reluctant to meet Bow and Glimmer. The way markers of time would sometimes slip her mind, or the way she would raise her eyebrows when Adora mentioned certain events. Catra had long since been trapped in amber.
Adora wants to be angry. It would be easy to be angry, to be mad that Catra hadn’t told her. She tries to reach for that, but all Adora feels is grief, a bone deep sorrow that hollows her out. A sense of mourning for someone that she had lost long ago, well before Catra had actually exited this earth.
Glimmer’s hand hovers over hers. “Do you… want to talk about it?”
Adora takes a shaking breath.
She tells Glimmer everything.
She starts at the beginning — as much of it as she can remember, at least. Her life has been so long and Catra is so intertwined with her earliest memories that she finds herself struggling to remember the beginnings of their friendship. All she knows is that Catra was there when she needed her — when they were two little girls in class together, each one kicked around by the foster system from a young age. She can’t even remember how they became friends, just that she had loved Catra since before she really knew what love was.
Growing up they had been inseparable. They had seen each other through the highest highs and the highest lows, periods of Adora’s life that she had been ashamed to share with anyone other than her therapist. They had built their lives around one another, trying out for the same sports teams, applying to the same colleges. “As long as we stick together,” Adora had once told Catra, “nothing really bad can happen.”
She had never been happier, or more scared, than that day when Catra had first kissed her — except for maybe her first Olympics. They had been together for six years, friends for twelve before that. Catra had been her entire life. When things were good, they were perfect. When they were bad, it was agony.
“Catra proposed,” Adora says. The mug of coffee is warm against the thin skin of her hands. She gazes out the kitchen window as if in a dream, listening to the drum of rain against its pane. “We were… I don’t know. It was just after college, I had just been selected for the Olympics, I… freaked out.”
Freaked out was an understatement. Things hadn’t been the worst at that point, but they hadn’t exactly been the best, either. Adora had been spreading herself thin as always, throwing herself into training until her body ached from it. Catra had been in her first year of law school, and brilliant, and tired. They fought over stupid things in order to avoid fighting over the serious ones — Catra’s burgeoning resentment as Adora pushed herself for seemingly bigger and better things, Adora’s dedication to her goals blinding her to her girlfriend’s own goals. Her constant pursuit of perfection ruining the best thing she had.
“I didn’t really… have a family growing up,” Adora says. Glimmer knows this. A lot of people know this — her life has been splashed onto magazines and websites. There’s a biopic that Adora could probably press charges over. “Neither did Catra. I was scared to do it wrong, and I was scared of getting distracted and fucking everything up. We had been fighting so much, I just… didn’t think we could do it.”
She doesn’t know how to explain it. Catra had never cared much for marriage, for a white picket fence, for children. Part of Adora had wanted it, had yearned for the stability even in the whirlwind of her competition years — and yet when Catra had offered it, Adora had shut down. Had pushed it away, the same way she had always pushed away the things she wanted the most, too scared by the thought of losing it to grasp it completely.
They had fought that night. Adora had cried, Catra had cried, both of them pulling from the arsenal of insecurities that only twenty years of intimacy and friendship could reveal. She had needled at Catra’s bitterness and jealousy, Catra had bit into her useless pursuit of perfection, the way she was willing to sacrifice everything — even herself, even Catra — to meet her goals, the way they were always so much more important than Catra’s.
Why can’t you just be happy for me?
Why can’t you just be happy with me?
“It was stupid,” Adora says, voice hoarse. Tears prick at her eyes — whether from the sight of the obituary staring up at her or from unearthing those memories that had been buried for nearly fifty years, she isn’t sure. “We should have just talked about it, but I didn’t, I just… walked out. I never even put on the ring.” Her voice cracks. She presses her eyes shut, counts slowly. The pitter-patter of rain against the window is the only thing grounding her. “I can’t remember what it looks like.”
Warmth envelops her hands. When Adora opens her eyes, she sees Glimmer’s small hands pressed against her larger ones. Across the table, Glimmer’s dark eyes are almost as wet as hers.
“Adora…” she says slowly “...Bow was always better at this.”
Adora huffs out a laugh. And then another one, and then she’s nearly hysterical, and then they’re just two old women laughing under their ribs hurt, until one of them is heaving with sobs and the other is holding her, stroking wisps of white hair back from her face.
Unable to bear the thought of going home, Adora stays at Glimmer’s house. She needs something to keep her mind occupied — so they unearth the box of dye that Glimmer had bought after the first night she had sported pink hair in Etheria. The brand she had used when she was younger doesn’t exist anymore, but it will have to do.
With shaking hands, Adora uses a brush to paint Glimmer’s hair with bubblegum pink hair dye that will doubtless be a darker mauve against her salt and pepper locks. It stains Adora’s papery skin magenta.
“I really loved her,” Adora says as she helps rinse the dye out, even though the angle is killing her back. “I think I still do.”
“I know,” is all Glimmer says.
Returning to Etheria is always disorienting.
It isn’t so much like falling asleep as it is being pushed under the wave of anesthesia. A dawning sense of apprehension held at bay only by a sense of numbness — and then it’s over. She closes her eyes as an old woman in her own room and opens them as a young one in Catra’s.
The eyes that stare back at her are wide in shock.
Catra isn’t dressed to go out — she’s wearing sweatpants and a T-shirt. Her hair is long and loose, the way it always is in this year. She looks exactly like she used to in college, when Adora would come home from practice or her part time job and find her curled up on the couch or craning over homework. She looks just as good as she had the first time Adora happened upon her in Etheria — she looks better. A painful sense of fondness washes over Adora. She wants to protect her, to curl around her and prevent the world from hurting her. She hates that it already has.
Always quick to hide her cards, Catra schools her face into a mask of neutrality. At length, she says,“I didn’t think you were coming back.”
“I shouldn’t have left in the first place,” says Adora quietly. “I’m sorry.”
Catra leans against the counter for a moment, studying her. When she pushes off of it, her shoulders are tenses. “I’m sorry, too,” she says. “I… didn’t mean it like that. Any of it.”
“I didn’t either.”
With a roll of her eyes, Catra holds out a hand. “Ugh. Come over here.”
Adora follows as if pulled by a string, lets Catra pull her into a soft kiss. Adora sinks into it, lets her fingers ghost over Catra’s sides as if to ground herself. When Catra breaks the kiss, she leans together, pressing their foreheads together.
“Adora,” she says. The shaking of her voice sets Adora’s heart pounding. “There’s something I need to tell you.”
Adora doesn’t open her eyes.
Catra goes rigid. She pulls away, and Adora forces herself to open her eyes, to study the slow dawn of horror breaking over Catra’s face.
“You know?” Her hands slide from Adora’s face, and Adora misses the warmth. “What do you mean, you know?”
“I know, Catra, I…” Adora struggles for words, but she forces herself to say it. Her voice is soft. “I read your obituary.”
Catra is quiet. The whole beach house is quiet, disrupted only by the soft whistle of wind outside. It’s a silence that Adora doesn’t know what to do with, so she fills it.
“Catra,” she tries again. “I didn’t — I’m so—”
“You should log out.”
Her voice is oddly calm. Detached. Adora takes a step closer to her, hand extended, and Catra takes a step back. Eyebrows wrinkling in concern, Adora says, “What? No, I’m not going to just leave you in—”
“Adora.” Her voice is steel. It roots Adora to the spot and her hand falls. “I can’t do this right now. I need you to log out.” When Catra opens her eyes, they’re glassy with unshed tears. “Because I can’t.”
It’s the last thing Adora wants to do — but she logs out.
Next week, she finds Catra on the beach, using a piece of massive driftwood as a bench.
The wind tousles her ponytail from behind. She doesn’t say anything when Adora swings herself over the weather beaten log and settles down next to her, a noticeable distance between the two of them.
“So, what?” Catra finally says. “You go searching, or…?”
Adora curls her fingers into the soft bark. She watches the ocean, tries to breathe in time with the incoming tide. “Glimmer told me,” she says. “Bow…”
Catra gives a small snort. “Figures. Can’t trust the locals.”
“She didn’t mean to — she thought—”
“Yeah, yeah, I’m sure it was an accident.” Catra says. She leans back against the log, and Adora watches as she sinks her toes into the cool sand underfoot. She’s wearing dark shorts and the kind of shredded band T-shirt she had always favored. “I wanted to tell you myself.”
Adora presses her eyes together. Heat pricks at the corners, but she told herself she wasn’t going to cry again. “Are you mad?”
Catra shrugs. “No. Yeah. Kind of.”
“I’m sorry,” is all Adora says.
They watch the ocean looming ahead, its waves darker than the night sky above. There isn’t even a fire to illuminate the beach, but the stars are bright overhead and the warm light of the beachhouse just barely creeps down to their perch.
“I’m sorry too,” Catra says at length. It’s the exact opposite of what Adora had been expecting. She lifts her gaze from the ocean to Catra’s contemplative face. “I… wouldn’t have wanted to find out that way, either.”
“I didn’t know,” Adora says, hesitant. “ Eight years, how could I—”
“Well yeah, obviously,” says Catra with a humorless laugh. She leans back on her hands, kicks idly at the sand underfoot. The dark hair framing her face is tossed over her mouth by the breeze, and Adora resists the urge to brush it back. She knows her hands would tremble. “I didn’t want you to know, Adora. We hadn’t spoken in decades. I didn’t think you would care.”
Amidst the volley of emotions in her chest, Adora feels anger welling up. “Of course I—”
“I didn’t want you to see me like that, either.”
It feels like all the breath has been knocked out of her chest. She thinks she is going to be sick— even with the pain sliders set to zero, the phantom ache of nausea whirls in the pit of her stomach. She presses her eyelids shut, willing the nausea and the budding tears to go away, and says quietly, “What happened?”
She had read just enough of the obituary to know the dates, to see the list of Catra’s accomplishments, the people she left behind. She hadn’t recognized any of those names.
Catra hesitates, just a moment. “I was sick,” she says. For a moment, she says nothing else. The crash of waves against the shore fills the air around them. When Adora turns to look at Catra, her eyes are glassy, fixed out somewhere on the vast, blue sea. “There wasn't a lot I could do, you know?” She closes her eyes. “They put me on the trial version for a few years, but it's not much different than what you have. A couple of hours a week. When things got really bad, when it was clear I wasn't going to make it, I…. made a choice."
The wind carries Adora’s hair across her face, and she hopes it masks the tears. She forces herself to ask the question, knowing that no matter the answer, it would hurt. “You weren’t… alone?”
Catra scoffs. She pushes her toes into the sand, as if to ground herself. It’s such a casual gesture. “No,” she says, amused. “You have to have a full audience. You, the doctor, a family member, another doctor. Scorpia too, just for the Hell of it. I should have charged admission.” She kicks up a bare foot, sends white sand flying into the air. “Donated it to one of your million causes or something, or whatever.”
“What? I’m the one who died here, I can joke about it.” Her voice is perfectly casual. “It was a long time ago, Adora. I’m over it.”
Catra says nothing. Adora shifts closer on the beached log. Its surface, smoothed by water, wind, and sand, is cool against the back of her thighs. Despite the evening chill, Catra’s body is warm when Adora rings her arms around her shoulders.
They sit like that for a moment, quietly watching the water. When Catra begins to shake against her, Adora shifts their positions, angling her body so that they’re facing one another. She nearly pulls Catra into her lap as she cries, murmuring whispered words of comfort into her dark hair.
The beginnings of hot tears prick at the corners of Adora’s eyes. She blinks them back, but can’t help it. She burrows her face into Catra’s hair, dampening her tresses as much as Catra is soaking the collar of her shirt.
“I didn’t think you would come back,” Catra says through tears. “If you knew…”
Adora presses her face further into Catra’s hair and says, “I’ll always come back. As long as you want me to.”
Catra’s fingers dig into her back in a vice grip, the same desperate way she used to cling to Adora when they were children. Adora leans into it, anchoring herself into that moment. Whatever Etheria is, whether it’s real or not, this is. Catra is. She’s not a duplicate, not just a simulation, despite what Adora had said out of hurt and frustration earlier. This is her mind, her consciousness, the closest thing humans have to a soul, far more important than the body had ever been.
But that doesn’t mean the body isn’t important. That doesn’t mean there isn’t a world out there that has been taken from her. She must have been so lonely.
Adora holds Catra until she stops crying, rocking her gently like a child. She carefully guides her up to the beach house. Undresses her carefully and helps her slip into bed.
Adora sheds her clothing and crawls into bed next to her, and another hot wave of tears pricks at the corner of her eyes as she thinks about all of the times the two of them had laid here, watching one another as the weekly timer counted down. All of the times that Catra must have been left suddenly alone in this big bed.
They don’t do anything other than lay there curled together. Adora presses her face into Catra’s neck just to be close to her, lets Catra run a soothing hand through the back of her silky hair.
When Catra opens up, talking about the last years of her life in a quiet, even tone, Adora protests.
“You don’t have to—”
“I want to,” Catra cuts her off. “I don’t exactly talk about it a lot.”
She cards her hand through Adora’s hair as she recounts the story, a soothing gesture for both of them.
Adora knows much of it— the years she had spent pushing her way through the ranks in a corporate law firm, the way she had eventually thrown it all out the window to do nonprofit work. She knows about her marriage, has seen pictures of Catra and Scorpia on their wedding day, and then again on Scorpia’s next one to her second wife. She knows that in her forties she had connected with her family, contacted by a sister she had never even known existed.
This time, though, Catra doesn’t pull back — she tells the story all the way to the end, as much as she can in the few hours they have between them.
“Thank you for telling me,” Adora says finally, voice muffled against Catra’s neck. “It’s not fair.”
“Life’s not fair,” Catra agrees. She lets out a sigh and uses the hand anchored against Adora’s scalp to gently tilt her face so their eyes meet. “Adora. I made the right choice. And before that, I had a good life. I had friends, and I found my family. I loved my job. I traveled. I had everything I wanted.” Her thumb ghosts over the peak of Adora’s cheekbone, her gaze dropping from Adora’s eyes to her lips and then back. “Almost everything,” she says quietly.
They lay there in near silence for the rest of the night, sharing the same breaths and watching one another until the timer runs out.
“What do you do when I’m not here?” Adora asks one night.
They’re laying on the beach, staring up at the sky. It’s a cloudless summer night. The stars watch them from overhead, two young women laying in different directions on the beach, heads together, hands intertwined.
“I dunno,” says Catra with a shrug. “Paint. Drive. Hang out with people. I have a life outside of you.” She waits a beat and then says, with a dry laugh, “An afterlife, I guess I should say.”
Adora strokes the back of Catra’s hand with her thumb. Catra doesn’t turn her head when she says, “Etheria is big. You tourists are locked into the trial version. There’s a lot more for people to do than just make out in Bright Moon all the time.” Adora shifts to look at Catra. Her eyes are still focused up on the sky when she says, “I… can show you. You know. One day. If you want.”
It’s a topic they skirt around. Adora isn’t young, but she’s healthy and hale.
She is also only human, and scared to die. Etheria is near limitless — it will last as long as the technology does. The thought of forever is somehow just as frightening as the thought of an end.
Catra tugs at her hand. “Adora, look.”
The comet streaks through the sky, a burst of light against the black, star-studded heavens above. Adora remembers watching it in her own lifetime, sitting on Glimmer and Bow’s back porch. She still finds it enthralling, even if it hurts her eyes to look at. Catra clearly does too. She leans up on her haunches just a bit, multicolored eyes trained on the sky.
A once in a lifetime event, they called it, but here they can play it over and over.
Adora watches Catra instead.
1979 / 1982 / 2004 / 2028 / 2039 / 2044 / 2071
In 1979, Catra takes Adora’s hands and guides her backwards across the roller rink, the mirrored disco ball overhead scattering fractured rainbows over her face, her artificially straight hair. Adora feels ridiculous when Catra drags her into a goth bar in 1982, makeup up to her eyebrows. She experiences a foam party for the first time in 2004, and when she slips and falls into the cloud of bubbles Catra laughs so hard she gets soap in her mouth. In 2028, Bow guides them around a replica of his and Glimmer’s crappy first apartment together, and they eat pizza and play board games on the floor of an apartment with almost no furniture. In 2039, she watches her first fully holographic concert, but she’s too caught up in kissing Catra to remember any of it. In 2044, they sit in a crowded sports bar and watch the summer Olympics together, and they cheer with everyone else when Adora gets her first Olympic gold.
It’s fun. It’s free.
It’s not enough.
It’s 2071, and it’s Adora’s fiftieth birthday — not that she looks a day past twenty two — and it’s 2091, and it’s her seventieth birthday. In the kitchen, Catra hip-checks the oven, and it slams loud enough to make Adora jump.
“Sorry,” Catra says, depositing her tray on the counter. The smell of chocolate makes Adora’s mouth water. “It still has to cool. I thought it would be ready sooner…”
Adora glances up from her perch where she sits on the bed, flipping through a book. Her gaze drifts to the clock on the wall. They still have some time left, but each inch of the hand closer to midnight makes her restless. She has half a mind to take it off of the wall and turn it over, hide it so that she doesn’t have that treacherous reminder of the passing of time.
With a raise of her eyebrow, Adora says, “Do I get something else while I wait?”
“So demanding,” says Catra — but she tosses the oven mitt carelessly to the side and rounds the corner from the kitchenette to the studio living space. She swipes the magazine out of Adora’s hand, knocking it to the floor, and all but crawls into her lap to kiss her.
Adora pulls her close, hands running through Catra’s hair — currently shorn short, just long enough that Adora can curl her fingers into it. She does just that, pressing up into the kiss earnestly.
It’s so… domestic. The smell of freshly baked cake wafting through the air, the quiet hum of the dishwasher in the back, the way Catra has traded a leather jacket or suit pants for soft pajamas. This is what she needs. Not a party every weekend, not to dance across different eras hand in hand, just… this. The occasional quiet, monotonous moment. The ability to lay around, bored out of her skull, and just be with Catra.
Catra’s hands are slipping just under the hem of her shirt, ghosting over her abdominal muscles, when Adora says, “I’m sorry.”
Catra pulls back. She quirks an eyebrow. “Huh?”
Adora plays with the edge of Catra’s pajama shirt, curling her fingers into the soft fabric to ground herself. “I’m sorry,” she says again. “For… leaving. For not coming back.”
Catra stills, but she doesn’t move away.
They’ve talked. A lot. But not about this, that breakup all those years ago, not without dancing around the subject.
“I was scared,” Adora says. Of trying and it not working, of being distracted, of being happy . “And young, and stupid, and selfish, I…”
“Adora, that was a long time ago,” says Catra quietly.
“I know, but I still…” She leans forward, pressing her forehead into Catra’s collarbone. “I wish we had tried to make it work, I wish that we had gotten married, that we had gotten old together, fought about stupid things like… like selling the house, or whatever.” She takes in a shaky breath and says, “I would do everything differently.”
The question knocks the air out of Adora’s chest. Catra’s touch is light against her hair, as she cards through her sun-touched tresses, “Adora. I wasn't any nicer to you. We both said stupid things and made our choices. I don’t…” She pauses for words and then says, “I liked my life, Adora. I helped a lot of people. I couldn’t have done any of that without having known you.” Her voice is painfully gentle when she says, “I don’t know if I could have done any of that with you.”
Adora closes her eyes. It stings to hear, even if she’s right.
They had always been like that — too codependent, too tangled up in one another, every move in life made around the other. She thinks about the opportunities for competition she had missed for fear of leaving Catra, the schools Catra had turned down to stay with her. Once the anger had died down, Adora had kicked herself for not even trying, but wasn’t that what she had always been scared of? The slow burn of resentment she had seen in so many foster parents, a sense of blame hoisted on one another for all the things they hadn’t become. At least it had blown up before they got to that point.
Adora doesn’t know what to say. She just nods.
Catra doesn’t say anything for a long time — sits curled in Adora's lap like that, one hand stroking through her hair. Finally she says, “We still could, you know.”
Slowly, Adora lifts her head. When she looks at Catra, her face is open, vulnerable. She pushes wisps of blonde hair back from Adora’s face and says, “We could just… pick a time and stay there,” Catra says. “Once you…” she struggles for words a moment and then decides on, “You know. After. Just start again in 2041 or 2042. It won’t be the same, but it could be okay.”
Adora’s heart skips a beat. “Would you want that?”
Catra laughs. “You’re so dumb,” she says.
“You’re lucky it’s cute. Yeah, I would want that.” Her thumb strokes over Adora’s cheek bone. “What about you? Would you want to, you know? Stay with me?”
Adora leans into the touch. Stay with me. They both know that she can’t. They both know that in just a few hours, Adora will have to go. The timer will run out — and then Catra will be alone in here, and Adora will be alone out there. Neither of them can know what the future might hold. One day, Adora will die. Whether it’s soon or not, no one can tell. Whether she will be able to cross into Etheria is also up in the air — she could die far from the chip required to upload her consciousness to the mainframe.
It’s a thought that makes her sick, the idea that one day she might leave Catra and just… never come back.
It’s so up in the air, but Adora can’t help it. She presses her palm to the hand anchored on her cheek, and before Catra can say anything else, she blurts, “Marry me?”
Catra stares for a moment. Adora flushes as her words come back to her, but she doesn’t take them back. She runs her thumb over the back of Catra’s hand. She hadn’t been ready for those words years ago. She is now — and this time, it’s Catra’s turn to make the choice.
“Yeah,” Catra breathes. The word has hardly left her mouth before Adora surges forward. She tangles her hands into Catra’s short hair and pulls her into a kiss, falls back against the bed and brings Catra down with her.
“I love you,” Catra says into her neck at one point, following it with an open mouthed kiss to her throat.
They haven’t said it yet, even with all this time they have spent together. Not in years, nearly fifty years that make Adora ache to think about. It’s been in every brush of their hands, every fond look, every minor argument that ends in rolling eyes, every fun night that ends with Catra’s body curled around hers.
“I love you too,” Adora whispers back, fingers digging into Catra's bare skin. Still? Again? She isn’t sure which, but she says it over and over, I love you, I love you, I love you, as many times as she can to make up for the all the times that she had been unable to.
2091 - 2097
It doesn’t get any easier.
Her life is a long one. She continues to work on the Board for her foundation until she can’t do it any longer, until her doctor sits her down and shows her the scans of her lungs, gently explaining the growths there. Occasionally she gives an interview— but there are many Olympians, and she hasn’t been news for a long, long time, unless it’s connected to her philanthropy. She visits friends and family, even as those numbers dwindle.
Glimmer never sells the house.
When she dies, it goes to her oldest daughter. “Mom had so much junk, Aunt Adora,” she says at the memorial, and the two laugh even as they cry. Somewhere, Adora knows, there is a blinking chip attached to a server, her lifelong best friend’s consciousness still living inside it. The pain of being left behind is dulled only by the happiness at knowing that Glimmer and Bow have been reunited. Adora thinks about them often, holds Glimmer so tightly she thinks she might bruise her when she goes in for her weekly visit to Etheria.
Living alone becomes difficult, especially as the disease progresses. The residential facility she moves into isn't a home but it's nice, and the young people who help care for her are kind. Every now and them, she regales them with a story from her youth. She knows how she sounds, an old woman trying to relive her glory days, wheezing around an oxygen tube.
She listens to their stories, too — her own frail hand clutched in a much younger one, as a girl of twenty two panics over her upcoming wedding, as exhilarated and anxious as if she’s just tried out for the Olympic team. So young. Adora pats her hand in sympathy.
And when it’s her time to go, Adora goes.
Adora wakes up on the shore.
The ocean stretches out in front of her. It sparkles in the summer sun, so bright that it almost hurts to look at, but Adora stares at it until she sees stars. The sky overhead is so big, so blue, cotton candy clouds wafting lazily across its surface. Adora tilts her head to the sky, relishing the feeling of the sun on her face. She’s never been here during the day.
She’s wearing jean shorts and a white T-shirt, a red and white bomber jacket thrown over the top. It’s exactly the kind of thing she might have worn in 2041 or 2042— not to dress up for a night at the club or for an interview, but something casual, something her . She fumbles with her white tennis shoes, unlacing them with clumsy hands and tossing them on the beach behind her. Her socks follow after. She curls her toes into the warm, wet sand and nearly cries at the sensation. She hasn’t been to the beach in so long.
Around her, the wind whips in a song that carries her name.
It’s been too long since she’s heard that voice.
Tears brim at her eyes, hot and real . God, it’s actually real, somehow even more so than when she had been in the trial version. Her vision blurs with it.
She whirls around at the sound of her name. Something — someone — slams into her, and before she knows what is happening she is falling back against the crash of the waves, arms wheeling out to catch her fall.
The water here is far too shallow to do anything but lap at the sand underneath her body. It’s cool against her skin, soaking the thin layers of her clothing and plastering them against her body. Adora doesn’t care — she’s too focused on the weight of the person in her lap, the familiar legs straddled over her hips.
“Hey, Adora,” Catra says, voice breaking. The wind tousles her long, loose hair, flutters the collar of the flannel she wears over dark shorts and a band T-shirt.
“Hey,” Adora says back, enraptured, and then crashes their lips together.
It’s an inelegant kiss, obstructed by tears and laughter and fumbling hands. Catra’s sandy fingers wind into Adora’s hair. She always did find a certain kind of satisfaction in destroying Adora’s ponytail, and Adora lets her. She fits one hand on Catra’s hip and the other on her jaw, and tries to pull her in close, closer. She could sink into the sand right now, let the ocean sweep her out, and die — actually die — happy, as long as she gets this.
It’s a travesty that breathing is a requirement in this afterlife.
Catra is the one to break the kiss, but she doesn’t pull away. She presses her forehead to Adora’s, her skin warm as she struggles to regain her breath. Her fingers stroke gently at the nape of Adora’s neck.
“Careful,” Adora says into the space between them, “Someone might think you like me.”
“I missed you,” says Catra, using the heel of her foot to kick at the side of Adora’s bare calf — in retaliation for the teasing or to distract from the way her voice breaks on the word, Adora isn’t sure.
Adora lifts a hand from the wet sand and wipes it on her shorts, then raises it to tuck a lock of hair behind Catra’s ear. Sunlight glints off of the plain, silver band on her ring finger. “I missed you too,” Adora says quietly.
Catra leans into the touch. “Ew,” she mutters, “Your hand is wet.” She doesn’t move away.
“You have a problem with it?”
When the tide comes in again, Adora bats a hand, sending salty water spraying up into Catra’s face. With a yelp, Catra stumbles back to her feet, and Adora follows, and then it’s just the two of them, fully dressed, chasing each other deeper into the cool water. The waves lap at Adora’s knees, and she laughs and swats water at Catra until the two of them are nearly soaked.
She’s ready to send another flurry Catra’s way when Catra leans forward, grabbing her by the front of her bomber jacket and pulling her in for a kiss.
It’s salty. In her hands, Catra’s clothes are wet and cold, but the skin underneath is smooth and warm. She presses her hand against the small of Catra’s back and pulls her in tighter, deepening the kiss. She could do this all day, all week, all month…
When she breaks the kiss, Catra grins. Adora uses her thumb to brush away a bead of water on her face — but her hand is just as wet, so it doesn’t help. Catra catches her hand in hers, brushes the back of it against her lips, the cold metal of the ring against her warm mouth, then lowers it.
“There are other people who want to see you, you know.”
“Do we have to?”
Catra laughs. A particularly strong wave batters against the back of Adora’s knees, and she drops Catra’s hand to flail for balance. They scramble up the beach, out of range of the tide. Adora stops, just for a moment, to turn back, one more glance at that endless expanse of sea.
“Hey,” Catra says, and Adora turns.
She stands just ahead, hair soaked, face glowing with laughter and love. Somewhere beyond the stretch of white beach is a small vacation house, and further inland a thin ribbon of road that leads to the city, and beyond that… who knows. A whole world, just waiting to be explored.
“You coming?” Catra asks. She holds out her hand— an offering, a promise.
Adora smiles and takes it.